Where to Find Contemporary Art in Bordeaux, France
In my Bordeaux travel diary (read it here), I mentioned two distinct art museums/spaces I visited during my stay. Both catered to contemporary art, and I believed they were interesting enough to garner their own post. Here is my contemporary art experience while in the city:
CAPC Musée d'Art Contemporain de Bordeaux
While in Bordeaux for the week, I knew I wanted to check out CAPC, the city’s official museum for contemporary art. Honestly, the official website is lacking and seems outdated, so I had no idea what to expect during my visit. But, I was slightly reassured as soon as I arrived to the museum. The exterior looks professional yet inviting, and the indoor space is vast yet well maintained. There were a number of exhibitions going on.
First, the Danh Vo exhibition. I had missed the artist’s retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, so I was excited to hear his work would be on view. While I am glad I got the chance to see his work in-person, it wasn’t as immersive as I’d hoped—but through absolutely no fault of the artist. To me, the experience was less of an exhibition, rather simply a display of three to four installations in the same gallery. The introduction wall text was also quite ambiguous. I actually enjoyed the works displayed, but I found the title of “exhibition” misleading. I also think the works could hold greater impact to visitors had the museum provided more context or presented the themes Vo usually explores.
On the next floor up, were two mini-exhibitions focused on architecture. One on contemporary Chinese architects and the other on construction projects occurring at the Parisian border. They were interesting but seemed more like small-scale presentations rather than an exhibition. It would be a great visit for an architecture class.
The third floor featured works from the permanent collection. This is the most “white-cube” section of the museum. The works were nicely displayed and I enjoyed quite a lot of the works on view. However, much of the wall labels were strangely placed far away from the artworks and provided absolutely no context. And of course, context isn’t necessary to appreciating modern or contemporary art, but the presentation of the collection would be more accessible to visitors if the collection had been organized in some way (chronologically, by art movement, themes, just anything honestly). I was able to possibly interpret hypothetical themes out of a few works that were placed near each other, but I often felt like I was reaching for a meaning instead of interpreting a curated story. Most likely, it was simply a display of some of the works the museum had come to own.
The outdoor terrace featured two land art works by Richard Long. Minimalist yet contemplative.
The museum was a little bit difficult to navigate and I realized I had neglected the exhibition of young local artists. So I checked that out last, and really enjoyed it. The artwork here was cheeky, dark, sexual, and sometimes humorous. It had the most emotional impact (and entertainment factor) of all the exhibitions.
The Base-Sous-Marine is an underwater art space on the outskirts of the city. It’s a little difficult to get to if you don’t have a car, so if you are without one: I would recommend taking a bike with you on the tram, getting off near La Cité du Vin, and biking from there (about a 10 minute ride).
The space is a converted World War II submarine base, so it is massive. When you first walk in, you are overtaken by the solid concrete structure, and this is even before you go underground. The exhibition on view was “Medio Acqua,” an exhibition appropriately focused on the theme of water. Almost all of the contemporary artists featured were from the region, and presented the ways in which they interpreted the idea of “water.” Some highlights:
An infinitely-long “film” made up of an algorithm that randomly collaged scenes from major movies that featured a water landscape. One can really experience how water has had major roles in symbolism and aesthetics—and becomes like a character in and of itself—throughout the history of cinema.
A drum filled with beads that mechanically tilted from side to side, recreating the sound of crashing waves that could be heard throughout the entire exhibit. A reminder that water can also be an audible experience.
A fractured thundercloud made of suspended glass panels and over-lit with neon lights. I believe this was meant to argue that nature and the artificial are not binaries, since thunder represents both a natural phenomenon as well as a symbol of electricity.
Overall, I enjoyed the exhibit, and the base is a great space to host films, exhibitions, and even concerts. It does get chilly, even during the summer, so make sure to bring a jacket.
See more art posts here.